Socialist Worker

Anti-union laws used to cut off BT strike

by Yuri Prasad
Issue No. 2209

A strike ballot by workers at British Telecom (BT) was cancelled this week after bosses threatened the CWU union with a legal challenge.

The union withdrew the ballot just minutes before it was set to announce the result after receiving advice that a strike vote would likely be overturned in the courts.

Some 55,000 BT workers, including engineers and call centre workers, were asked if they were prepared to strike against a multi-year below-inflation pay offer.

Socialist Worker understands that bosses had indicated that they would challenge the result in court.

If the strike had gone ahead, it would have been the first by BT workers in 23 years.

Bosses claim that the union had not correctly identified the workplaces of every member balloted.

This challenge makes a mockery of workers’ rights.

Thousands of BT engineers work from their homes or vans, not from a fixed office.

And the firm uses mobile technology to allocate jobs to workers out in the field.

This makes it extremely difficult for the CWU to comply with the ever stricter interpretation of the anti-union laws.


Andy Kerr, CWU deputy general secretary, said, “We will take all necessary steps to allow us to re-ballot our members as soon as is practically possible.

“In the meantime we will also be taking up an offer from BT for a meeting to see if there is a way to resolve this dispute without the need for industrial action.”

Union activists in BT who spoke to Socialist Worker were insistent that the bosses’ legal challenge must not see the union giving in on its 5 percent pay claim.

While BT bosses were busy patting themselves on the back, the government this week indicated that it is planning to toughen still further the vicious laws that restrict unions’ right to take industrial action.

The attack on the CWU’s ballot is the latest in a series of legal challenges to the right to strike, including British Airways.

With the Tories set to slash billions from public services and sack hundreds of thousands of workers, it is vital that the unions call the bosses’ bluff.

The next time the bosses rush to the courts, we should rush to the picket lines—whether deemed “illegal” or not.

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Article information

Tue 6 Jul 2010, 17:36 BST
Issue No. 2209
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